"What did the drummer say right before he got kicked out of the band?” asks Patrick Sites, sharing a joke that he and his Whitewater Ramble band mates like to tell. He laughs as he delivers the punch line. “Hey guys, can we do one of my songs?”
Considering that Whitewater Ramble is a bluegrass band and its current drummer, Paul Kemp, has a personal fascination with reggae music, one might suspect that many a truth has been said in jest.
But not with this band.
To hear Sites tell it, musical schizophrenia is just another day at the office for Whitewater Ramble. Sites, who plays mandolin, sings and writes a fair number of the group’s original songs, points out that the drummer did get one of his creations onto the band’s new CD, titled Roots and Groove. And yes, it is a reggae tune being played by five guys on fiddle, guitar, drums, mandolin and an upright bass.
“We’re a schizophrenic band, and we are celebrating the release of our schizophrenic album,” Sites says. He’s only sort of kidding. Roots and Grooves is an eclectic mash of songs including traditional bluegrass; reggae and rock with alternative instrumentation; an 11-minute-long murder ballad; and a bluegrass cover of U2’s “One Tree Hill.”
Yet despite a diverse collection of music that would seem to stretch the confines of bluegrass in every conceivable direction, the new CD doesn’t include examples of many of the band’s best-known musical concoctions that make their way into the group’s high-energy live performances every night.
For example, the band occasionally adds a synthesizer to its traditional instrumentation to create what Sites describes as “something like techno dance bluegrass.” While that description may conjure up the image of the banjo player from Deliverance wearing round glasses with a hard-angled platinum-blond hairdo, in truth, it’s just fun music, and that’s what keeps it interesting and joyous for both the audience and the band.
Whitewater Ramble has clearly been influenced by both roots music and the jamband scene.
“We do lots of improvisation,” Sites says. “A song might be seven minutes long one night and 14 minutes the next. Our bass player is a jazz-head who surfs his bass, and when you add that to the mix along with drums, the music takes on a life of its own.”
And for that reason, the drummer’s job is likely safe no matter what kind of song he offers for the band to take a ride on. Anybody up for a little death-metal bluegrass?
Whitewater Ramble may be the first band on the ticket this spring at the Planet Bluegrass Wildflower Pavilion in Lyons, but it isn’t the last.
The Hillbenders, along with Finnders & Youngberg, will be leaving no string unpicked as their version of energy bluegrass finds it way into the Pavilion on Friday, April 5.
Critically acclaimed singer/songwriter Peter Mayer is coming to the Wildflower along with local mandolin prodigy Bella Betts on Friday, April 12.
Mountain Standard Time brings its bluegrass fusion to Lyons along with Gipsy Moon on Friday, April 19.
Danny Shafer will be having his CD release party at the Wildflower along with pals Lindsay Lou & the Flatbellys on Friday, April 26.
And finally, to cap off the Spring Series at the Wildflower, Rob Ickes & Jim Hurst will use their virtuosic skills on guitar and dobro to make it a memorable evening on Saturday, April 27.
Bring on the spring and the fun.
Whitewater Ramble plays the Wildflower Pavilion Friday, March 29. Show starts at 8 p.m. Caravan of Thieves opens. Tickets $12 in advance. Tickets and info at www.wildflowerpavilion.com, 800-624-2422.